HC Deb 17 February 1944 vol 397 cc394-403
Commander Sir Archibald Southby (Epsom)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 7, to leave out from "applies," to "makes," in line 8.

It seems to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley), whose name is also attached to this Amendment, and to myself that it is wrong to limit the application of this Clause to a specific class such as that to which it will be limited if these words remain in the Clause. As I see it, the provisions would not apply to anybody who had already left the Service or indeed to those who might leave the Service between now and the coming into force of the provisions of this Bill. Since the object of the whole Bill is to look after the interests of all those who have served in the Forces, it seems to me that so narrow a limit as that is unfair and therefore the interests of people who have been in the Service and may come out before the end of the war should be safeguarded.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour (Mr. McCorquodale)

I would ask my hon. Friend not to press this Amendment. It is bound up with Clause 13 and, if he looks at that, he will see that it has effect in relation to a person whose war service ended not earlier than 26 weeks before the commencement of this Act. So we do include in this Bill everybody whose war service has not been terminated 26 weeks before this Bill comes into force. Moreover, under Clause 12, anyone who has come out of the Armed Forces, and has been directed by the Minister of Labour into any civilian work, has his reinstatement rights kept in cold storage. Therefore, if they have been directed, they will come under the operations of this Bill when they leave that service to which they have been directed That only leaves the small number of people who have come out of the Forces and have not been directed to other work. In the past, they have not only had the original Clause in the National Service Acs to rest on, but they have had no difficulty in getting work, if they have wished to get it, owing to the stringent condition of the labour market. Therefore, I cannot think there is any hardship under this Bill and I think we have met every case which might give rise to difficulty.

Major Manningham-Buller (Daventry)

I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to reconsider the case of the last category of persons to whom he has referred, those who come out of the Forces and find employment for themselves without being directed by the Ministry of Labour. It may be the case that there is no difficulty in people finding work in the national interest at this particular moment, but this Bill is looking ahead to reinstatement in civil employment after the war, and unless some provision is made in this Bill for this category, those persons may find themselves suffering a great disadvantage at the end of the war if the hopes of full employment are not immediately realised. I would, therefore, ask the hon. Gentleman to reconsider this point, to see if some right of reinstatement can be preserved for those who return to civil life and employment in the national interest, to which they have not been directed, and who may want re-instatement in their own employment when this emergency comes to an end.

Mr. McCorquodale

I am afraid I cannot accept what the hon. and gallant Gentleman has said. This Bill deals with reinstatement in civil employment not only after the war but whenever people come out of war service and I think he must have misunderstood that. These people have had reinstatement rights under the original National Service Acts, which they have been able to exercise, or not, as the case may be. It seems unreasonable, whether that right has been exercised or not, that they should have other rights given to them.

Sir A. Southby

It is hardly a fair presentment of the case for the hon. Gentleman to say "If these people have exercised their rights or not." Many of them have not been able to get back to their previous jobs because they have disappeared completely. It is not a question of their being able to exercise their right to go back to certain employment, and because it is only a small number it does not seem reasonable that they should be treated less fairly or justly than anyone else. Many of them have come out of the Forces during the war period. They have not been directed, they have not exercised their rights under previous provisions. They have found jobs for themselves. Therefore, it does not seem to me reasonable that they should be penalised and put in a category which is not going to be benefited by the provisions of this Bill.

Mr. Lewis Jones (Swansea, West)

The argument of the hon. and gallant Gentleman means that, if he got his way, a man who has left the Army and found employment very favourable to himself and who has not applied to his previous employer under the rights of the 1939 and 1941 Acts, and has remained in employment for a period of perhaps five years, or six months after the termination of the war, can then go back to his employer and expect that employer to dismiss a man in order to reinstate him. That is asking too much, and I hope the Minister will refuse to accept this Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

The Chairman

I think we might discuss the next two Amendments in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Daventry (Major Manningham-Buller) together.

Major Manningham-Buller

I beg to move, in page 1, line 20, to leave out from "practicable," to "in," in line 22, and to insert, "for the former employer so to do."

This Amendment, and the following Amendment in my name—in line 25, to leave out "in his case"—seek to get some clarity into the first three lines of Sub-section (1, b). I must admit that I am in some doubt as to what they mean, and I feel that any Reinstatement Committee will be in considerable difficulty in determining what factors they should take into account in deciding what is reasonable and practicable. I understood from what was said on the Second Reading that the object of this Clause was that the position of the employer should be considered, that is, the Committee should consider whether it is reasonable and practicable for the employer to do this or not. If that be so, then the words of this Amendment make that much more clear, and it is important that it should be stated clearly in the Bill what factors are to be taken into account in determining what is reasonable and practicable, because it will assist the Committee to carry out their purpose. If it is left uncertain, you will get all sorts of rulings from different committees, and it will be a very long process to get any sort of uniformity out of the decisions of umpires. As a matter of interest, I looked at the definition of the word "reasonable" in Stroud's "Judicial Dictionary." It was singularly helpful, because it started off in these words: It would be unreasonable to expect an exact definition of the word reasonable. Reason varies in its conclusions according to the idiosyncrasy of the individual and the times and circumstances in which he thinks. It seems to me that unless this Committee lays down some general indication to the Reinstatement Committees as to the angle from which they are to look at this problem, you may get different committees acting on entirely different and opposed principles.

Mr. McCorquodale

When reading the original words I thought I understood what they meant and I regret that the hon. and gallant Gentleman finds such difficulty in doing so. I think they are clearer than the words he has chosen—if he does not mind my suggesting that—chiefly for the following reason. These two paragraphs are possibly two of the most important in the whole Bill. The hon. and gallant Member's Amendment would make paragraph (b) refer to paragraph (a), so that paragraph (a) could not possibly be read by itself. I think it is desirable each paragraph should be as self-contained as possible. For that reason I prefer the drafting in the Bill. I do not think there is anything in the point as to whether "shall be taken into employment" means that the employer's position would not be referred to. I am afraid that I cannot follow that argument. The words: If it is not reasonable and practicable that the applicant should be taken into employment surely refer as much to the employer as to the applicant. Therefore, I would ask the Committee to resist the Amendment and keep to the wording of the Bill.

Major Manningham-Buller

I fear that I cannot have made my point plain to the Parliamentary Secretary because it is quite obvious that paragraph (b) only applies if paragraph (a) cannot be fulfilled owing to the conditions. I am afraid the hon. Gentleman has missed the point of this Amendment entirely. The words as they stand may mean something, but what I understood the hon. Gentleman to say on the Second Reading was that the matter would be looked at from the employer's angle, and the words, "reasonable and practicable" would be judged by the Committee as meaning whether it was reasonable and practicable for the Committee and the employer so to do. I hope the hon. Gentleman will reconsider the point. If it is to be considered only on the basis of whether it is reasonable and practicable to the applicant, it seems to me to open very wide possibilities indeed

Sir Frank Sanderson (Ealing)

I rise only to say that I could not accept my hon. and gallant Friend's Amendment. The words in the Bill are understood by all reasonable and practical business men, and it is better that the wording should be in the present form, rather than in the nebulous form suggested by my hon. and gallant Friend.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

We will, of course, look into what my hon. and gallant Friend has said. I find the Bill easier to understand than his speech, but that may be my fault. With regard to the question of looking at it from the point of view of the employer, I think you must look at it from the point of view of both applicant and employer. It is to be reasonable and practicable in all the circumstances, including the position of the employer and the applicant. Last week we were discussing under the Disabled Persons Act the position of somebody who has been maimed in the war, but apart from that Act, it might be perfectly legitimate for the Committee to consider whether a man after the war was able to do the work which he had done previously.

Sir Arnold Gridley (Stockport)

In view of what has been said by my hon. and learned Friend, I would like to ask whether the Minister would be prepared to accept, at the end of paragraph (b) these simple words: and in the circumstances of the former employer. That makes it perfectly clear that the circumstances both of the applicant and of the employer should be taken into account, as my hon. and learned Friend said they must be. Paragraphs (a) and (b) at the moment are certainly not clear in that respect, and that is why the Amendment in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend was put on the Order Paper. I would ask, in view of what the Attorney-General has just said, whether the Government will be prepared to consider the addition of those words which I have suggested?

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)

We have given a lot of thought to this Clause and I am sorry that we cannot accept the Amendment. If I put into the Bill the words which the hon. and gallant Member has suggested the applicant will immediately say, "The Bill has been loaded against me." [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, you have to remember that the people making the great sacrifices in this war are the applicants, the men who are coming back. I do not want to take into account what is reasonable for the employer and leave the applicant out of consideration. All the facts have to be taken into account. As I have just said, I do not want to put words into the Bill which imply that the dice are loaded on one side or the other.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. McCorquodale

I beg to move, in page 2, line 5, to leave out, "by the applicant," and to insert, "to him."

This Amendment is to clarify the position and we hope it will be accepted.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 2, line 6, leave out "he" and insert "the applicant."—[Mr. Bevin.]

Major Manningham-Buller

I beg to move, in page 2, line 16, after "has," to insert: on account of the terms and conditions thereof. This Amendment covers more or less the same ground as the previous Amendment of mine and I need not take up much time in dealing with it. It seems to me that the insertion of these words would make the Bill clearer. I want to make it quite clear at this point. I, for one, wish to avoid creating the impression that anything in this Bill is loading the dice one way or the other, particularly against the applicant. I do not think anyone who read this part of the Bill with these words in could possibly gain that impression. He would say, "I am entitled to refuse the job offered to me if the terms and conditions are unreasonable." If it is left vague, as it is now, the applicant might be in doubt as to what he could or could not do and he would not know what decision might be arrived at, if the matter was brought before the Reinstatement Committee.

The Attorney-General

We think it would be a pity to insert these words because they might suggest that that was the only cause on which a man could reasonably refuse. A proper and equally usual provision is where, although the offer is made, the man is suffering from some temporary incapacity and is not in a position to accept the job. We think it better not to start putting in one reason or another because, once you do that, it suggests that that is the only reason.

Major Manningham-Buller

Having heard what my right hon. and learned Friend has said I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. McCorquodale

I beg to move, in page 2, line 17, to leave out from the beginning to "and," in line 20, and to insert: or reasonably believes that he has reasonable cause for not taking it. This is a clarifying Amendment. On studying the Bill, we found that the words there did not quite meet all the cases that might arise. A common case would be that of a worker not being able to take a job offered to him owing to temporary incapacity. In such a case, "refusing to take it" could hardly describe attitude. Therefore, we think these words will more adequately meet the position.

Amendment agreed to.

Sir A. Southby

I beg to move, in page 2, line 30, to leave out "six," and to insert "twelve."

It is only by accident that my name is to this Amendment and to the next Amendment, in page 2, line 30, to leave out "six," and to insert "eighteen." I think the obligation of the employer should be extended for a longer period than six months. Nobody knows what the conditions will be when hostilities come to an end. There may be various reasons why a man takes a long time to settle down and I think we owe it to the people who come back from war service to give them a much longer time in which to look round. The employers' obligation is accepted; it cannot make any real difference to them whether the period is six or 12 months but to a man making an application, it might make all the difference in the world. Many men will have been away for long periods and should have a longer time than six months. I hope, therefore, that the Amendment will be accepted.

Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)

We are in a difficulty in this matter because my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Epsom (Sir A. Southby) has his name to this Amendment, which states that the period should be 12 months, and also to the following Amendment, which states that the period should be 18 months. I cannot see why there should be any date at all. The obligation here would naturally come to an end on the fifth Monday after the last man had been demobilised. I cannot see why there should be any date, although I would like to support my hon. and gallant Friend in stating that the date should be as far ahead as possible. Men may be far away from home, in hospital for a long time, and we do not want any men to lose their reinstatement rights, even if the number is very small.

Mr. Naylor (Southwark, South-East)

I support the Amendment before the Committee and would give this additional reason why it should be accepted. Many industries are of a seasonable character, that is to say, they are very busy for a few months of the year and later become slack. Sometimes the seasons alternate in the different quarters of the year. That means that if a man is to be employed for only six months, he might possibly be taken on during the busy season and be put off when the slack period arrives. He would have a much fairer chance if given 12 months instead of six. In view of what I know to be the Minister's experience of seasonal work, I hope he will allow the Amendment to be incorporated in the Bill.

Mr. Molson (The High Peak)

I do not follow the argument of the hon. Member for South-East Southwark (Mr. Naylor) who was, I think, referring to the duration of time during which a man has to be employed. What this Amendment does do is to limit the period, at the end of the expiration of the emergency, when the obligations of this Bill will be put into operation. I hope the Minister will not accept the Amendment because when the Measure was in operation employers would feel no security for retaining a man and a man in a job would be liable to find a man returning from the Services with a prior right. I think it is most undesirable that this general state of uncertainty and unrest should be kept in existence for longer than six months.

Mr. Naylor

I was under a misapprehension and I am much obliged to the hon. Member for pointing it out.

Captain Prescott (Darwen)

I think my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) has cleared up a misunderstanding. The six months' period is the period after which the Bill shall be enforced after the termination of the emergency.

Mr. McCorquodale

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Darwen (Captain Prescott) have drawn the attention of the Committee to what the Amendment really means. Sub-section (2, b) states that: In no case shall the former employer be under any obligation to take the applicant into his employment after six months have elapsed from the end of the present emergency. The end of the emergency of the last war took place late in 1921, or early in 1922. It is the time when everybody has been demobilised. We chose the time of six months after the end of that period because everybody would have been demobilised and would have been able to establish his reinstatement rights and get to work. Later in the Schedule there is a Clause which states that when a case has been argued before a Reinstatement Committee and the man has not got back into employment his right is carried over. I think we have allowed for everybody in this Measure and I hope the Committee will resist the Amendment.

Sir A. Southby

In view of what the Parliamentary Secretary has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.